This is the bedrock of any business
Most family businesses worldwide will not make it past one or two generations since “the biggest challenges are rarely addressed,” says Peter Johnson, director of the Westgate Center for Leadership and the Institute for Family Business in the Eberhardt School of Business at the University of the Pacific.
These challenges include honest communication, succession planning and personal development. “Many of the top business schools fail to cover these when educating their students.”
Effective communication is the bedrock of any business, family-owned or otherwise. See “How to communicate effectively” (Jan. 3, 2014) and “When disagreeing becomes the antidote” (April 6, 2018).
“Having clear and open communication can be scary, difficult and messy,” says Johnson. “Often we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings (especially a loved one) so we ignore issues and hope they get better. They won’t. Address challenges head on. It may be difficult at the time, but in the end it will make life better for everyone involved. What conversations have you been putting off that you need to have?”
Preparing the next generation to succeed is often the most difficult issue faced by founders who find it hard to let go, parents who have not trained their children to lead, or family branches jostling for the top post. See suggestions for succession planning in “Tackling succession” (May 12, 2018) and “Training the next generation” (Sept. 19, 2014).
“As leaders, we should always be developing the next generation of leadership,” says Johnson. “Who will replace us when we are ready for that next chapter in life? Who will replace that key office person when they retire or leave? The most important thing a leader does is develop other leaders. What are you prepared to do to build the leaders in your organization?”
Personal growth, not just for the sake of the individual but also for the benefit of the business, is often neglected. Leaders who have looked beyond themselves end up better stewards and mentors in the business and in society. See “Are you a steward?” (May 17, 2019) and “CSR and mentoring” (Dec. 22, 2017).
“It is easy to get so focused on the day-to-day stuff that leaders don’t look at the big picture,” Johnson says. “We can’t see the forest for the trees. One way to look at the big picture is to grow internally. Put yourself in a position that challenges you and encourages you to step back and look at a broad view of your business.”
Johnson has worked with family businesses in Napa Valley and Sonoma in California.
“Watching siblings working together, teaching each other, building on a legacy that their parents or grandparents started is a wonderful thing,” he says.
“However, serving as an expert witness as a son defended himself from a lawsuit brought on by his father is a painful experience to observe. I watched a father and son who had worked together to build a very successful business tear down not only the business but also the relationships of everyone in the family. I saw parents keeping grandparents away from their grandchildren as a tool of punishment.
“No family can completely eliminate the challenges of working together day in and day out. To help ensure that your family business has a healthy and happy relationship year in and year out, you need to communicate honestly, plan for succession and spend time developing yourself so you can work on the business rather than in the business.”
Meet Peter Johnson and the Philippines’ next-generation leaders on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, at the Ateneo de Manila University family business convention at the Edsa Shangri-la Hotel. For registration details, visit fambiz.ateneo.edu. Call 945-7232 or 0917-885-0064. Email [email protected].